Dreaming in Cuban

By de los Angeles Torres, Maria | The Nation, January 24, 1994 | Go to article overview
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Dreaming in Cuban

de los Angeles Torres, Maria, The Nation

An unprecedented exhibit of visual art by twelve Cuban women from the island and abroad opened on November 12 at Miami's Museo Cubano de Arte y Cultura. Three hundred guests got a glimpse of "Arte Cubana," a manifestation of the profound transformations under way in what up to now has been the most politically intolerant city in the United States.

Miami today is home to a new wave of exiles: the children of the Cuban revolution. Unlike past waves of emigres, who were dismissed as the pillars of the ancient regime or the outcasts of the new one, this one contains the revolution's own cultural elite, who critique it because it has betrayed its own nationalist and socialist principles. In the city they were taught to hate and that was taught to hate them, new exiles are meeting the children of the original exiles. Like their island counterparts, young Miami Cubans also rejected the dominant political culture of their community, including the prescribed ways each side was expected to deal with the other. These new relationships are bringing down the aquatic wall that has separated the island/nation for thirty-five years.

The result is an intense rethinking of Cuban identity, art and, yes, politics. This transformation is evidenced by the diversity of style and content of the works exhibited in "Arte Cubana." The curator, Cristina Nosti, born and raised in Miami, broke barriers by selecting works on the basis of artistic merit and thematic composition rather than on where their creators live or when they left the island. These latter criteria are frequently used on the island and in the exile community. For example, an exhibit recently on display at Fort Lauderdale's Museum of Art titled "Twentieth-Century Cuban Artists" excluded artists living on the island today, like Manuel Mendive, or those in the States who had visited their homeland, like Ana Mendieta. Despite its emphasis on recent art, only five out of twenty-seven artists exhibited in Fort Lauderdale were women.

Because of its more inclusive definition of Cuban culture, the Museo has been attacked by terrorists in Miami and excluded from events on the island. These attacks still haunt the Museo, and may be responsible for the absence from the exhibit of Maria Martinez-Canas, who creates Wifredo Lam-like montages of photographs, and of Demi, whose baby self-portraits recall the love she lost when her father was put to death by a firing squad in 1961. Nonetheless, "Arte Cubana," like other recent cultural events, is a sure sign that Miami is becoming a more culturally inclusive city.

In contrast, only one exile, Natalia Raphael, has exhibited her work in Cuba. It was in Matanzas, whose cultural community has been able to avoid many of the capital's political battles. Matanzas is also home to Vigia, a hand-assembled literary journal that has always included exiled writers. In contrast, Gaceta, the publication of the Union of Writers and Artists, recently published a special section on Cuban-American writers that emphasized the differences between those who stayed and those who left. The magazine does not discuss writers who have recently left.

Despite the official unwillingness to engage in a redefinition of Cuban culture, informal debates about what constitutes "Cubanidad" have been ringing across the Florida Straits. When I was in Havana last fall, Mirta Ojjito's Miami Herald articles were creating a stir. Ojito reported that most of Havana's artistic community can now be found mingling with second-generation Cuban exiles at Friday night gallery openings in Miami, and concluded that the city has become more cuban than the island itself. Independent intellectuals I spoke with found Ojito's argument overstated--Havana is still there, as are the palms, el Malecon (the seawall), la brisa (the sea breeze), other important intellectuals and artists. At the same time, they admit that Cuban culture on the island is in jeopardy.

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